Mat­ing and Breed­ing

Landscape (UK) - - Monumental Beauty -

Male and fe­male stoats come to­gether just once a year, dur­ing the spring or sum­mer, to mate. Polyg­y­nous in their breed­ing habits, males leave their ter­ri­to­ries and go in search of sev­eral fe­males. Once mated, the fe­male de­lays im­plant­ing the fer­tilised egg for 9-10 months un­til the fol­low­ing spring. This is so she gives birth at the same time ev­ery year. When fi­nally preg­nant, she gives birth af­ter four weeks to a lit­ter of be­tween six and 13 young, known as kits. Be­cause sev­eral males may have mated with a sin­gle fe­male, the lit­ters are of­ten of mixed pa­ter­nity. The off­spring of two or three dif­fer­ent males can be found in the same nest. The young are born in April or May, al­most naked, deaf and blind. Ini­tially, they are fed solely on milk by the fe­male. Their eyes open af­ter two to three weeks. Af­ter four or five weeks, she will start to bring them solid food, though she may con­tinue to give them milk for the fol­low­ing few weeks. Dur­ing this pe­riod a male stoat will of­ten come and im­preg­nate all the fe­male kits while they are still in the nest, and even blind and naked. Like their own mother, they will de­lay im­plant­ing the egg un­til the fol­low­ing year. By the age of seven or eight weeks, the young have grown their first coat of fur. Now they start to hunt with their mother. By 11-12 weeks old they are fi­nally able to hunt by them­selves. Fe­males reach their full size at ap­prox­i­mately six months; males do not do so un­til they are one year old. Stoats are gen­er­ally fairly silent an­i­mals, but some­times make a trilling sound be­fore mat­ing, or hiss or shriek when they are ner­vous or an­gry. The kits are usu­ally more vo­cal, es­pe­cially when play­ing, when they will chirp ex­cit­edly. They can live for five, and in ex­cep­tional cases as long as eight, years. How­ever, most stoats only sur­vive for one or two years, be­cause of pre­da­tion or short­age of food.

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